- Chalk Balls, 21 April 2021
- Walk Leaders: Sarah & Mike
- Distance: 6.5 miles
- Start: Staple Ash Farm near Chilgrove GR SU840151
This 6.5 mile circular ramble took in 2 of Andy Goldsworthy’s famous chalk balls up on the South Downs – Goldsworthy being a famous British sculptor known for his site-specific installations involving natural materials. Thirteen of his large chalk balls are scattered across the Downs from Bepton over Cocking Hill to West Dean. As Goldsworthy is also interested in how the passage of time affects his work, the average walker might easily walk past these large lumps of weathered chalk without realising their significance
The walk starts from a good-sized verge offering safe parking close to Staple Ash Farm, near Chilgrove. Finding this spot is actually part of the adventure as it is quite off the beaten track. Be warned, the farm doesn’t have a sign, but fortunately there isn’t much else around to confuse matters. So, assuming you have found this spot, you need to head up the very slight hill looking for a footpath sign off left. The route could not be easier to follow as it is pretty much a 1.5 mile straight line through West Dean Woods until it joins the South Downs Way at the top. Keen gardeners will appreciate the beautifully laid hedge along a large section of the path. While still very much in the early stages, it will surely be a thing of beauty in years to come. Both chalk balls can be found along this track, one early on and the other closer to the top. Without our expert guides I think the majority of us ramblers would have sailed past the first, it was so weathered and in keeping with its surroundings. The fact we were all busy chatting might also have had something to do with it. The second one is much clearer to see, as it has a commanding position in a clearing and looks a lot whiter and more statuesque.
Laid hedge to the right, chalk ball to the left
With the South Downs Way and sheer slope of Didling Hill providing a natural buffer at the top, turn left to join the national trail for another roughly 1.5 miles. Along this section you have some fabulous views in all directions, but especially over the western Weald below you to the right. In spring also keep an eye open for the bright yellow cowslips decorating the side of this well-trodden path.
The Weald looking north along the South Downs Way
Just before you turn off the SDW are the Devils’ Jumps. These are 5 large barrows set back slightly from the track and perfectly aligned Southeast to Northwest, so they are oriented with the rising and setting sun on Midsummer’s Day. This is also a good place to check your map as a short distance later you are leaving the SDW. When the main path turns right you carry on straight ahead, in the direction of Hooksway. There is little to distinguish one path from the other as they are both wide and well-trodden, so be sure to check you are on the right one.
The Devil’s Jumps
At the bottom of the hill you will be greeted by the Royal Oak pub, which has plenty of outdoor space in a beautiful setting, so who wouldn’t be tempted by a little light refreshment at this stage in the walk? The next path on your route back to the car (Philliswood Lane) starts almost directly opposite, so you are unlikely to make any post-refreshment navigational errors – although don’t hold me to that! The only tricky bit of map reading along this entire route comes about 5/600m along this path. The main track is straight ahead but you are looking for a smaller left-hand path up through the woods. This will lead you to Chilgrove and Staple Ash Farm road near Brooms Farm. It is then an easy one mile walk back to the car along a very quiet country lane.